(other titles for consideration: “Pillows of Prozac”… or “Autumn on Your Fork”)
I have many qualities I’m proud of. None of these, unfortunately, is slowing down (not without much reminding, that is). ‘Stopping and smelling the roses’ regrettably lands about 37th on my laundry list of daily tasks. There are those 4 projects I need to start, those 8 drafts I need to finish, those 16 people I need to call back, and those 32 thoughts buzzing around aimlessly in my brain at all times. There’s coffee with that friend, lunch with that colleague, that block of code I can’t figure out, that plane ticket I was going to buy, a call to my mom or dad or sisters, a trip to the market, a trip to the gym and… oh yeah, somewhere in between, a blog I just happened to start.
Maybe you’re thinking this sounds an awful lot like you, or maybe you’re thinking I sound completely insane. Whatever the case may be, however, I know for sure that my slippery, darting days tend to hurl forward and out of my grasping fingers at such tremendous speeds that I often find myself in utter shock when focusing on the forgotten afternoon clock and realizing it’s 4. “But it was just 11:30 ten minutes ago!” is typically my dismayed reaction. Although it may seem surprising, I often wore this busyness like a badge of honor throughout college and the few years that followed. I was busy! I was important, needed, intelligent, paramount—I was here, I was there, I was living!
As my twenties progressed and (…ahem…) came to a close, I began to realize how insane this mentality was. Yes, I’m incredibly grateful to have drive, enthusiasm and continuously evolving goals (and wouldn’t have it any other way)—to have ideas that spark my interest, passions to pursue, and the hunger to learn and grow always pushing me along. But does this need to be everything to me? These days, I feel it absolutely should not. I try to remind myself as much as possible to slow down (and mind you, I’m a definite work in progress). But I’m getting there—to find some silence and some stillness. To be ‘here’ now, not ‘there’ later. To take advantage of this moment as it is, in all it’s imperfection; or maybe, to discover some perfection that almost went unnoticed.
And in this spirit of slowing down, I took this past Sunday’s blogging experiment as an opportunity to do just that. While I have often fought against time, I decided to embrace it—to stretch it out and explore it, and to release any expectation of how things would go. I had the afternoon to myself—my laundry list was dismissed, and my darting mind was put down for a nap, as I handmade 70 little dumplings of yum. This may sound like torture to some, but I absolutely loved every single one I prepared, mainly due to the reminder it gave me of my late, dear, Italian grandmother, who used to do the same. She referred to gnocchi as Gavadel, which I assume (after some research didn’t turn up much) was her small Italian hometown’s rendition of and/or alias for the famously decadent potato dumpling. Gavadel were always hand-prepared by Grandma upon special request, normally for a birthday or holiday, and always with much pride, joy, and killer marinara sauce. These would never be served on any regular Sunday, oh noooo. These were only reserved for special times of celebration. Not wanting to mess with tradition then, I had my own private celebration… with myself, Grandma Josie, and the gorgeous early-Fall afternoon sunlight as I affectionately created something out of nothing: from cheese and flour to perfectly delicate indulgences, this Sunday was truly something to celebrate after all.
Patient reader, please meet Brown Butter Gluten-Free Gnocchi with Sautéed Radicchio and Butternut Squash…
Speaking of grandparents, my boyfriend’s grandfather (an endearing character whose adorableness could never be adequately measured or quantified) sent me, via the bf, 2 gorgeous butternut squash from his upstate garden. This sweet man, though worn with age, tends to a full garden every season—a task that I consider a huge reminder to myself to stop and slow down—a task of nurturing, patience and care. And thus, Grandpa Garner’s butternut squash was the perfect addition to my Grandma Josie’s love-labored pasta dumplings.
As Fall gradually overtakes Summer, I’m craving food that warms me from the inside more and more these days. The buttery, savory nuttiness of this sauce combined with the sweet warmth of the squash, offset by the slightly bitter radicchio, and all tossed together with these feather-light pillows of Prozac (as they no doubt raise Serotonin considerably), makes for a perfect bite of Autumn on your fork.
While Grandma’s Gavadel, adored by yours truly, were made from potatoes, I have to say I’m a big fan of the ricotta gnocchi that I’ve been served in restaurants of late (prior to Celiac, of course). This lighter version replaces the usual starchy potatoes with its title ingredient, and the result is pure perfection. These gnocchi are so incredibly tender, I find myself at a loss for adequate adjectives to fully drive home the point. I have tasted similar only in my favorite NYC Trattoria, Mario Batali’s unparalleled Lupa. I never imagined I could ever create something similar in my own kitchen, much less without the gluten. But thanks to the internet, rice flour, and the amazing Nicky of Delicious Days, I can! Celebratory Gavadel is staying on the menu for a long time to come…
Brown Butter Gluten-Free Gnocchi with Sautéed Radicchio and Butternut Squash
adapted from Delicious Days and Epicurous.com
Never fear, busy reader who wants-to-slow-down-but-just-can’t-devote-all-day-to-dumpling-making. Although this dish was my way of slowing down, this gnocchi takes a record 30 minutes to prepare. No joke. I took longer this past Sunday as I considered various ideas, prepared trial runs, tasted, tested, etc. But seriously, gnocchi from scratch can now be moved into the category of a quick meal. Hallelujah…
*Note: If you don’t have a gluten problem and you’d like to make this with regular flour, you can substitute the rice flour, garbanzo bean flour, tapioca flour, and potato starch below with 5-7 Tablespoons regular all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting. I have not tried/tested this (as my tummy would be pissed), but I would assume the conversion should produce a great result.
Serves 4 (plus you will probably have some leftover gnocchi)
You will need:
For the gnocchi:
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons Part-Skim Ricotta Cheese, excess liquid discarded (*eek! Random sidebar: Please note this conversion may be wrong. I will check and re-post within a few days tops. Might be less than the 1 cup of ricotta- please check back before you make this! )
1 egg yolk
¼ – ½ teaspoon salt
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
2 Tablespoons white rice flour
1 Tablespoon garbanzo bean flour
1 Tablespoon tapioca flour
1 Tablespoon potato starch, plus up to 2 Tablespoons more
all-purpose Gluten-Free Flour, for dusting the board
For the rest:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 ¾ cups peeled, cubed butternut squash (¼ – ½ inch dice)
1 cup radicchio, thinly sliced
6 – 8 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
1/3 cup pine nuts
freshly grated Parmesan Cheese, for garnish
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
To begin, place pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat and toast, stirring frequently, until golden and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Set aside.
Next, heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cubed butternut squash and a small dash of salt and sauté until tender and golden, about 5-7 minutes, depending on the size of your dice. Add the sliced radicchio and another small dash of salt and several grinds of black pepper. Sauté, stirring, until radicchio is slightly wilted, about another 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a plate and cover with a loose foil tent. Reserve pan for later use.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and cover so that the water stays warm and ready to boil while you make the gnocchi.
To make the gnocchi dough, combine Ricotta, egg yolk, salt, and Parmesan in a bowl and mix well. In a separate bowl, combine all flours except the all-purpose (white rice flour through potato starch) and combine thoroughly. Add flour mixture to Ricotta mixture and mix very briefly, until just blended. Dough will be very sticky, and that is what you want. The more flour you add, the more dense the gnocchi will become. The goal is to use as little flour as possible. If you must add more flour, add some or all of the additional 2 Tablespoons of potato starch and mix briefly (*Note, if using regular all-purpose flour to make the non Gluten-Free version, add 5 Tablespoons flour initially, then add up to 2 Tablespoons more if necessary). Do not overmix.
Generously flour a board or your countertop. Working quickly, drop a giant spoonful of gnocchi dough onto the floured board. Gently roll the dough back and forth with minimal pressure as it gets covered in flour and forms a cylindrical shape. Continue rolling it gently until it is about the thickness of your finger. Dip a sharp knife in flour and cut the rope of dough into 1-inch segments (you may need to continue to dip the knife in flour to prevent the knife from sticking to the dough). *At this point, if making traditional potato gnocchi, many would make a small indentation with a fork by gently rolling its tines over each dumpling. I prefer to skip this step, however, because the delicateness of this ricotta dough will not withstand much prodding, and the goal is to keep the dumplings as puffed and light as possible.* I use the knife blade as a ‘spatula’ to transfer the gnocchi to a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper and then dusted with flour (you can use your hands, but beware that these little dumplings are extremely delicate!). Continue working quickly on a new batch, transferring to the cookie sheet after each round, until all the dough has been used.
Raise the heat under your pot of water to bring it back to a boil. Add a large pinch of salt and reduce heat slightly so that the water is at a very gentle boil. Add the gnocchi (15-18 per person) and stir once so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot (Note: if making the full 4 servings, you may need to cook them in two batches so you don’t overcrowd the pot). The gnocchi will rise to the top after 3-4 minutes, depending on size, which means they should be done. Test one to make sure it’s to your liking. Take them out with a skimmer and transfer to a plate.
If you feel up to multitasking while the gnocchi are cooking (but without diverting your attention too much as to not overcook them!), begin the sauce. Otherwise, start the sauce as soon as the gnocchi are finished and transferred to a plate, working very quickly (it’s important to not let the gnocchi sit too long). For the sauce: Heat the reserved skillet (which was used to cook the squash and radicchio) and add butter, allowing it to completely melt. Once melted, continue to cook butter until it is golden brown, about 2 minutes total, adding fresh thyme and sage after 1 minute. Add the squash, radicchio, and cooked gnocchi to the pan and gently toss with butter and herbs, making sure squash and radicchio are warmed through. Taste for salt and pepper and add accordingly (although it may not need any, since the gnocchi are very flavorful on their own). Lastly, add the toasted pine nuts and toss. Divide among serving bowls, top with freshly grated Parmesan, and serve immediately.
*Note: Although the gnocchi are best when cooked and served immediately (and I recommend you do so), you can make the dumplings and freeze them for one to several days prior to boiling. After you transfer them to the lined and floured cookie sheet, place cookie sheet(s) in freezer for 2-3 hours. Once frozen solid, transfer gnocchi to a freezer bag and store. When ready to prepare, boil in same manner as above, although expect the gnocchi to take a bit longer to cook.